Testimony begins in RGC teen’s murder case

EDINBURG — On Aug. 11, 2017, 19-year-old Jose Luis Garcia Jr. sat in an interview room at the Starr County Sheriff’s Office with Texas Ranger Eric Lopez.

For 45 minutes early that afternoon, Garcia provided Lopez a rundown of where he was and what he was doing between his birthday, July 26, 2017, and Aug. 1, 2017.

What Garcia didn’t know until that 45-minute mark was that Lopez was investigating the disappearance of a 17-year-old Rio Grande City man named Chayse Oliveraz, who disappeared on July 30, 2017.

By all appearances, Garcia was a normal Rio Grande City teenager; a good student who played football and liked to “chill” with his friends.

Garcia is accused of paying 18-year-old Phillip Severa $10,000 to lure Olivarez to a ranch in Roma and where the man was shot and killed.

He’s also accused of paying 18-year-old Sebastian Torres $2,000 to help clean up a burn pit of evidence on that ranch. Garcia is also charged with destroying physical evidence, a human corpse.

All three of the men are charged with capital murder. Torres and Severa were 16 at the time and Garcia had turned 17 just days prior to Olivarez’s disappearance.

Authorities discovered parts of Olivarez’s dismembered body in three foul-smelling trash bags in an area known as the “Lagoon.”

On Tuesday, in the first full day of evidence and testimony in Garcia’s murder trial, the jury began watching a video interrogation of Garcia taken by Lopez after what the man’s attorneys, Ricardo L. Salinas and O. Rene Flores, have characterized as an illegal arrest that violated their client’s rights.

Garcia told Lopez in the video, which is not over and will continue being played Wednesday, he was a systematic individual who stuck to plans, which mostly consisted of hanging out with his friends, playing sports and swimming — activities he did every single day between his birthday, July 26, 2017, and Aug. 1, 2017.

Those activities were true except for one day, the day Olivarez’s mother, Margarita Olivarez, last saw her son: July 30, 2017.

Garcia told Lopez he stayed home that day, aside from a trip to Subway.

Starr County Assistant District Attorney Gilberto Solano-Hernandez alleged during opening arguments, however, that Garcia’s behavior that day was not mundane.

It was sinister.

Solano-Hernandez told the jury that Garcia spent four days planning the murder with Torres and Severa.

In fact, Garcia admitted it, Solano-Hernandez said, telling the jury that Garcia confessed and even lead investigators to the crime scene on that ranch in Roma.

Salinas and Flores have vigorously objected to the inclusion of this confession, attempting to have it thrown out in the weeks leading up to the trial because they say police violated Garcia’s rights by essentially arresting the man without probable cause for murder or a warrant.

Salinas described the behavior of Rio Grande City police officers and Starr County Sheriff’s Office deputies when picking up Garcia as a “snatch, grab and interrogate” method.

RGC police officer Ryan Rosa, who Salinas called a “hostile witness,” steadfastly maintained that Garcia, who he placed in handcuffs, was not under arrest after he pulled the man over for speeding and driving on an improved shoulder.

Rosa maintains he told Garcia he wasn’t under arrest and free to leave whenever he wanted before placing the man in handcuffs “for his own safety,” but apparently Rosa’s body cam of the traffic stop is missing that portion and only that portion.

The RGC officer testified that his body cam had a glitch, that he turned it off and that the portion is missing because of how the body cam works.

It’s not clear why that portion of the video is missing as Rosa’s testimony changed several times.

Salinas forcefully questioned the officers if the team working on the Olivarez case had a “wink, wink” agreement to get Garcia to the sheriff’s office by any means, even if it meant violating his constitutional rights.

The handcuffs were not removed from Garcia’s wrists until he was inside the interrogation room, without being told why he was there other than the Texas Rangers wanted to speak to him.

After about 10 minutes, Lopez, the Ranger, arrives and begins the interview, which will continue being played to the jury Wednesday morning.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of a police officer’s name.